Bret Contreras is the master of the badonkadonk. The certified strength and conditioning specialist with a Ph.D. in sports science is known simply as the "glute guy" among fellow fitness pros. He has spent his career studying, writing about and training the body's largest and arguably most important muscle group, the glutes (butt muscles).
Contreras has trained athletes, bodybuilders, figure competitors and models. He also founded his own training and sports science facility, The Glute Lab, and created and patented his own glute-training equipment, the Hip Thruster.
Basically, he's the man you want to listen to when it comes to training your backside.
So whether you're looking to boost your athletic performance, lose weight or simply have a great-looking rear view, Contreras has you covered. Here, he shares his ultimate tips for strengthening and sculpting your best butt ever.
1. Stop Thinking of Barre as a Good Butt Workout
And, while you're at it, rule out kickboxing, yoga, Spinning, Pilates and long-distance running. "None of these forms of exercise are going to develop the glutes like heavy strength training will," Contreras says. Your glutes are incredibly strong to begin with, so to really work them, you have to go hard, he explains. Lifting weights is the best way to do that.
2. Have a Plan
If your idea of hitting the gym goes something like "walk in, take a look around and do what sounds fun today," you can get in a good workout, but you won't build your glutes with much success. Contreras explains that the key to strengthening and shaping the glutes is to challenge the muscles with heavier and heavier resistance over time, known as progressive overload. "You need to walk into the gym thinking, 'I'm performing these three glute exercises today, and I know how many reps and sets I'll do with what weight,'" he says. (Need a plan? Try this free Butt of Steel Workout by Pauline Nordin.)
3. Master the Hip Thrust
The hip thrust exercise is the key to any successful glute-training program, Contreras says, because it fires up the glutes better than any other. The move looks similar to a hip bridge, but puts the butt muscles through a greater range of motion. (It's also easier on your back.)
To perform the hip thrust, sit on the floor with a flat bench directly behind you. With your upper back pressed firmly against the bench and your feet planted firmly on the floor in front of you, roll a loaded barbell on top of your hips and hold the weight with a wider-than-shoulder-width grip. (You can also use dumbbells or your body weight.) Keeping your shins vertical, push your hips toward the ceiling. Once your upper back is on top of the bench and your torso is parallel to the floor, pause and then slowly lower your hips back to the start.
4. Hit Every Angle
Most people work their glutes with squats, deadlifts and lunges, Contreras says. While these are great exercises, they all work your glutes in a similar way. Add in exercises in which you rotate your hips, move your legs out to your sides, and move horizontally, Contreras says. "[This will] train all of the glutes' fibers and roles for the best results," he explains. Mix up your glute work with lateral band walks, hip thrusts, back extensions, and cable chops.
5. Lift Heavier Weights
The exact amount of weight you should move during a given glute exercise depends on how many reps and sets you'll perform of that move, but you should work with enough resistance that you are just able to eke out your last rep with perfect form, he says. That gives you optimal glute activation without sacrificing form and risking injury.
6. Work Your Glutes Three to Five Days Per Week
"Your glutes are a big muscle group and can handle a lot of volume, especially when you utilize variety in your training routine," Contreras says. So instead of hammering your glutes once a week during "leg day," include glute exercises in your workouts three to five days a week.
7. Dial Down the Cardio
Some cardio can help you burn fat and reveal your buns of steel, but at a certain point cardio can work against your muscle gains, Contreras says. "If you're training for a marathon, you're not going to be able to simultaneously build your glutes to a high degree." In fact, some evidence shows that long-duration cardiovascular exercise can convert fast-twitch muscle fibers (those largely responsible for shaping and building your butt) into small, slow-twitch fibers (the kind you use during endurance exercise).
What Do YOU Think?
Have you ever performed a hip thrust? If you have, what advice can you share with other readers? What are your current fitness goals? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!